Married with Restitution

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Many Americans live by the mantra that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That sort of opportunistic impulse invigorates many people with a strong sense of entrepreneurship, including criminally-minded opportunists. The Dayton Daily News reports on an Ohio couple, who defrauded the state’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) when the husband collected living maintenance wage loss benefits for two years while he ran their family business.

It’s true that the husband experienced a workplace injury, which is why he began collecting temporary total disability benefits—a program designed solely for those who are physically unable to do their job while recovering from a workplace injury. But sooner or later, state authorities received a tip that detailed how the man had actually been back at work for quite some time. He allegedly had been running his business while collecting checks from the BWC for an entire two years before someone ratted him out. (Maybe he was a bad boss in addition to being a fraudster.)

An investigation by the BWC confirmed that the man had falsified his earnings and illegally collected disability when, for at least 24 months, he received compensation in violation of the disability program’s rules regarding returning to work. It also exposed the wife for colluding with her husband to misstate his earnings when she issued him fraudulent payroll checks. (Sounds like she really took that whole ”happy wife / happy life” mantra to heart. Wonder if she considered how it might take her to prison?)

Ultimately, both the husband and wife were indicted, found guilty and ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution and related fines and fees. The wife pleaded guilty to one count of complicity to commit workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor, and was ordered by the judge to repay $16,192 in restitution and another $7,234 for costs associated with the investigation. Since she paid the full $23,426 to the court, the judge sentenced her to time served—right after they collected from her another $30 in court costs. (Penny for your thoughts, Your Honor? This judge ain’t messin’ around.)After he pleaded guilty to workers’ compensation fraud, the husband was ordered to repay $23,427 in restitution and costs. He also was slammed with 30 days in jail, but had his sentence suspended for five years of community control, requiring him to maintain a job and avoid new arrests. (That’s a pretty low bar. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t injure his nose while thumbing it at the government).

Disability insurance is designed to keep afloat employees whose companies have failed to keep them physically safe. While business owners who are injured running their own company can be extended those same benefits, they also are responsible for maintaining a safe work environment at their organization. Those who exploit the government’s willingness to help businesses regain a viable workforce show a complete disrespect for one of our core American values: fair pay for a full day’s work.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on ”New Lebanon couple defrauds workers’ comp system,” by Laura A. Bischoff and published by Dayton Daily News on January 13, 2016.

COLUMBUS – A New Lebanon couple pleaded guilty to operating a scheme to steal workers’ compensation benefits and were ordered to repay a combined $108,000, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

Mike and Terri Watkins, a married couple, worked together to defraud the state’s injured insurance worker system, the BWC said.

Mike Watkins pleaded guilty in Franklin County Common Pleas Court last month to one count of workers’ compensation fraud and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, suspended for five years while he is on community control. He was ordered to pay $84,574 in restitution and investigative costs and made an initial $30,000 payment on the debt.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.